________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 4. . . .September 25, 2009


Still Longshots. Making Films, Beating the Odds.

David Finch & Maureen Marovitch (Directors). Dan emery & David Finch (Picture This Productions Producers). Germaine Ying Gee Wong (NFB Producer). Sally Bochner & Ravida Din (Executive Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2007.
52 min., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9107 096.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Julie Chychota.

*** / 4



“But after 11 years on the street, I’m not a junkie. That’s so nice.? (Beat, workshop participant.)

Getting to know all of the students this summer has been such a rewarding experience, but there’s still a long way to go. There’s still a long way to go to get them off the streets, and they have to do most of the hard work themselves. (Korbett, workshop instructor.)

Still Longshots provides an unflinching look at the lives of a select group of at-risk young people on the streets of Montréal. It records their participation in a 10-week video workshop intended to equip them with new skills while simultaneously allowing them to explore issues and themes that matter to them personally. Consequently, the documentary enables viewers to see these workshop participants not as “street kids,” but rather as the unique individuals they are.

     Although 11 individuals initially signed contracts for the Still Longshots workshop, only seven show up. Of those seven, the documentary follows four in particular: Dave, Édith, Brian, and David. Twenty-three-year-old Dave is an easygoing philosopher, given to crude one-syllable interjections. His affection for his dog tempers his otherwise tough demeanor. Soft-spoken Édith, 19, serves as a foil for the more boisterous group members. Her cherubic visage makes it difficult to imagine that she could ever have been capable of the violent behavior she alludes to. Brian, 24, is better known as “Beat,” short for “human beatbox,” because he creates rhythmic sounds with his body. Since he has decided to quit street life and drugs, for him the workshop represents a rebirth. Finally, as the victim of a curbside dispute, 19-year-old David is a no-show at the outset; he later turns up battered, but buoyant. Yet this self-described “natural products consultant” drops out of the workshop about one-third of the way through the 52-minute production because, as he explains to workshop instructor Didier, he has been “promoted” to street boss. Looking into the camera, a resigned Didier acknowledges matter-of-factly, “We know we’re dealing with street kids. It’s hard [for them] to do the switch, and they have their own issues.”

     The design of the DVD case certainly hints at the grittiness of those issues. A collage of black and white pictures culled from the making of the documentary is fronted by a pedestrian-crossing sign upon which the video’s title and subtitle resemble graffiti. With its title, Still Longshots acknowledges its namesake, the 12-year-old blueprint on which it was modelled: Longshots. Like the original participants, whom they meet during the course of Still Longshots, the members of this second workshop learn how to conceptualize and direct the action, how to interview people, how to experiment with camera angles, and how to edit their videos. When pieced together, excerpts from their films reveal that, as difficult as life on the street has been for both sets of young adults, they have found it preferable to the alternative: living with parents or foster parents who were alcoholic, violent, abusive, or detached. However, food and shelter are hard to come by on the streets, whereas alcohol, drugs, and violence are not. Given that workshop participants come from what instructor Korbett refers to as “cycles of abandonment,” drinking and doing or dealing drugs may be the only coping mechanisms they possess.

     A pivotal point in this documentary occurs when the Still Longshots cohort meet their Longshots counterparts for a picnic in the park. The outdoor setting promotes relaxed interactions, and the current workshop participants even score some interviews with the alumni. Victor, Carrie, Jeanette, and Scott, now in their thirties, reflect on choices they made in their late teens and early twenties and how those choices shaped the people they are today. Using a split screen technique, Still Longshots juxtaposes footage of the four from 12 years ago with contemporary footage of them. To a large degree, these thirty-somethings serve as mentors for the participants of the second workshop who perceive the former to be like them, just older and wiser.

    An introductory frame to the original Longshots video, segments of which are embedded into Still Longshots, defines the longshot as “a wide shot establishing the subject in relation to its environment.” In a sense, the subjects themselves are longshots: workshop partners are gambling on participants to use the training provided to get off the streets and lead safer, healthier lives; however, there is no guarantee that the young people will do so. Still, it is encouraging that even kids who drop out of the program, like Carrie did, have a chance of “beating the odds.” For this reason, it would be interesting to continue to repeat this project, each time following up with participants of previous workshops.

     Most of the scenes play out in Montréal, accompanied by the original music of local indie band Puff and the Pillpoppers. Since most residents of Montréal speak both of Canada’s official languages, workshop instructors and participants switch seemingly effortlessly between English and French. English subtitles accompany the spoken French, which is an effective way for the film to facilitate communication yet retain the original nuances of voice and meaning. Still Longshots is also available from the NFB in French as Un pari tout aussi risqué.

    The workshop participants are at-risk youth rather than persons with developmental disabilities, and the location is Montréal, instead of Vancouver; nevertheless, Still Longshots bears a resemblance to this ability. The goal of both NFB documentaries is the same: to empower the filmmakers-in-training with opportunities to speak for themselves and to address common misconceptions or stereotypes others might hold about them. While the straitlaced may not tolerate the film’s inclusion of coarse language and addictive substances, broader-minded viewers will accept them as true to street life, and choose instead to focus on the vulnerability and creativity these young adults demonstrate. The care with which Dave, Brian, and Édith complete their videos, as well as the exhilaration they radiate the night they receive their workshop certificates and screen their films for family and friends, is palpable.

    Ten weeks, seven participants, three instructors, four alumni: countless insights. Only the coarse language and images of addictive substances cause me any reservations.

Recommended with reservations.

Julie Chychota is a transplanted Manitoban living in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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